Have you ever wanted a cookbook for a Muslim household, but all you really could find was a Middle Eastern or other ethnic cookbook? Are you looking for some fresh ideas for Iftar meals? Halal Healthy Meals by Karemah Alhark is a delightful e-cookbook available for download via the author's blog. It is designed "not just an Islamic cookbook, but as a comprehensive approach to cooking and dining upon the Sunnah of the Prophet".
One of the first things you may notice in this crisp 150 page e-book is that there are recipes for just about any category – from beverages to cheesecakes, dips, beef, vegetarian, pastas, fish, soups, breakfasts, breads, salads and more. Each section is separated with a full-color photographic image showing a meal or item from the section. This book would look lovely in printed form. After the recipe sections, you will find sections to help you brush up on your Islamic etiquette for eating and drinking, information on fasting, a section in support of eating Zabiha, and some further sections on dietary and nutritional information. One of the last sections is a bit of a commercial for a product the author uses in her kitchen, but it is a small portion of the book, and as part of the back matter is not distracting from the great recipes. The conversion table for measurements is truly one of the most complete and useful I've seen in a cookbook, including both US and metric liquid and dry units.
The recipes themselves are very appealing and none of them are those highly unrealistic gourmet recipes that require hard-to-find ingredients and special equipment. These are real tried-and-true family recipes collected from a variety of sources. One of the most appealing aspects of this recipe collection is its diversity. For example, the bread section has recipes for Hopi (Southwest Native American) Fry Bread, American Southern Corn Bread, Naan, Pita Bread, and Hush Puppies. There are recipes from Scotland, South America, the Philippines, South Africa, Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, India, Southern US, and many other regions, yet none of the recipes are exotic in nature; they should appeal universally to the Western palate as regular every day meals or options for potlatches, etc.
If you want to bring Halal homemade Buffalo Chicken Wings, Crock Pot Beef Curry, Mongolian Lamb, English style fish, or Vegetarian Goulash to your next Iftar, the recipes await in Halal Healthy Meals. For non-cooks, there are some very simple recipes to try, such as home fries, grits, salsa, squash, and basic brown or basmati rice. But, there are also samosas, chicken pot-pie, lasagna, and other favorites. A recipe begins with listed ingredients and is followed by clear, numbered directions for preparation and cooking. Many of the recipes are followed by green boxes with extra information, such as substitutions, accompaniments, nutrition information, or historical trivia about the food, which make this a very pleasurable read for a cookbook.
If you purchase the cookbook, it comes with a bonus: a 50-page e-book on natural skin care that includes basic health information and numerous recipes for natural cleansers, astringents, moisturizers, masks, scrubs, and so on. It contains information on common ingredients in store-bought products from an Islamic perspective. Both books contain bibliographies and references for information provided to further your own research and help you find items as needed, and they are both infused with Islamic sensibility while remaining readily usable by any audience. The author acknowledges some room for diversity of opinion on some of the health care and Islamic matters, but is successful in providing good information without being particularly preachy.
Even without purchasing the book, a reader can find a wealth of recipes, nutrition/health information, and Islamic information and etiquette on food and health on her blog. She has been providing a series of recipes for the month of Ramadan that are designed to be nutritious and time-saving.
Ms. Alhark has collaborated this year with Whole Foods for some prize drawings for her readers during the month of Ramadan. It seems a suitable partnership as Whole Foods this year has embarked on one of the first, if not the first, national advertising campaigns for the month of Ramadan by an American company, and is one of the only national chains providing some organic, ethical Halal meat options (via Saffron Road Foods) in stores even in traditionally non-Muslim markets. While there is always danger of over-commercialization of the holy month, or loss of its spiritual intent, most American Muslims, existing in an environment in which national chain Best Buy received major backlash for simply printing the words "Happy Eid al-Adha" in a Thanksgiving sales flier in 2009 when the two holidays occurred on virtually the same dates, are pleased with acknowledgment by a national company as a matter of small convenience and good will.
Purchasing products does not purchase heaven or happiness, but having options for providing Halal and healthy food for Muslim families during the month of Ramadan and year round just might be a benefit to you.